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Cape Breton University investigating substantial development of Tartan Downs site

An aerial view of Tartan Downs Raceway is shown in this undated file photo. Cape Breton University has purchased the site and has issued a request for proposals to develop it. CONTRIBUTED
An aerial view of Tartan Downs Raceway is shown in this undated file photo. Cape Breton University has purchased the site and has issued a request for proposals to develop it. CONTRIBUTED
SYDNEY, N.S. —

Cape Breton University is looking to turn the former Tartan Downs site into a ‘modern neighbourhood’ with affordable housing, student housing, community inclusion characteristics and commercial features. 

A request for proposals for an architectural design and master plan for the ‘substantial mixed development in the central urban district of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’ was issued on Wednesday. 

The Urban Neighborhood Development Association (UNDA), in partnership with CBU, is cited as the lead organization for the development that aims to place up to 400 residential units at the 24-acre site found at Upper Prince Street, Sydney.  

Expectations are for the space to be utilized for commercial uses, tenant social inclusion and professional and community services, according to the public documents. 

“The proposed development will contribute to resolving the broader community demand for housing. The community needs affordable and accessible housing for seniors, students, families and graduate students,” the request for proposals document states. 

The ‘complete neighbourhood’ will enhance social interaction, improve the overall well-being of tenants and provide opportunities for diverse cultural exchanges, according to the document. 

“Equally important, the central location of this development enables tenants to better participate and navigate the central job market opportunities while living in close proximity to lifestyle amenities, and near many retail and commercial services.” 

Eldon MacDonald
Eldon MacDonald

Eldon MacDonald, the District 5 councillor for the CBRM, said the project sounds much like one planned for Grand Lake Road about 12 years ago. That concept, he said, included commercial and residential properties, a grocery store and businesses. 

He likes the sound of this one, too. 

“It’ll be great to bring the students into the more core city area,” MacDonald said. “It’s always been a bit of an issue with transportation and their ability to get in and off the property out on the highway, so it is going to create a great opportunity for the students to have a more inclusive living environment within the municipality.” 

The UNDA is listed as a society with a mailing address of 1250 Grand Lake Road. Its previous name was Pier Place Association when it was incorporated in November 2019. The name change was in February. 

Association members include CBU president David Dingwall and Gordon MacInnis, CBU’s vice president of finance and operations, who are listed as among the society’s seven directors. Shauna Kelly is president, while Doug Connors is vice president. 

The UNDA and CBU are seeking the services of a qualified architectural consultant or architectural consultant team (proponent) to design a phased conceptual master plan.  

According to the request for proposals document, CBU will maintain land ownership and essentially be a beneficiary (student housing) of the development. The university will offer its ‘strength in energy efficiency research, facilities management, residence housing experience, project management and overall project development leadership’ to the initiative. 

The proposed project has two phases. The first is the submission of price quotation regarding the conceptual, phased master plan. Phase Two is a submission of price quotation for actual construction designs, construction readiness and construction tenders. In the second phase, proponents will provide a price quote for the creation of necessary construction detailed drawings and construction-related documentation which will be used as ‘tender documents for the actual construction of the Tartan Downs lands master plan.'

Eastviewdexter is shown jogging around the Tartan Downs track on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. The property has been purchased by Cape Breton University and plans to develop the area are being investigated. GREG MCNEIL/CAPE BRETON POST
Eastviewdexter is shown jogging around the Tartan Downs track on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. The property has been purchased by Cape Breton University and plans to develop the area are being investigated. GREG MCNEIL/CAPE BRETON POST

Once the master plan has been completed and the costs associated with the overall development have been addressed, the feasibility of the project will be determined. Some of the key factors in the “go; no-go” decision making will be based on the total cost of the project and the potential to phase the project over multiple years, according to the request for proposals document. 

Kathleen Yurchesyn
Kathleen Yurchesyn

Though the project is in its initial stages, Kathleen Yurchesyn, CEO of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce, said just word of it injects a level of excitement into the community and builds confidence.  

“I think when the university announced the purchase of that land the community was very excited to see someone purchase it and with a plan to develop it,” she said. 

“I think with the need of adequate housing for our students and as we continue to grow our student population at our post-secondary institutions, this is a wonderful initiative to solve that shortfall of what’s available now and then also create a community for these students that is off-campus and that is more integrated with the downtown commercial core of Sydney.” 

If the project goes forward, the construction will also create jobs and inject money into the economy, she said. 

The site of the former harness raceway was originally listed for sale in June 2007 and had been made available four separate times before it was sold. The final time it was listed the property was on the market for five months before CBU purchased it for $259,500. 

Its original asking price was $975,000, while the land’s assessed value is $89,300. 

The request for proposals documents are available by contacting kent_macintyre@cbu.ca. Proposals will be received by 2 p.m. on June 15.   

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